[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/01/27/obama.arabia/art.obama1.gi.jpg caption="President Obama has taken an early interest in the Middle East peace process."]
Arsalan Iftikhar | BIO
Echoing a key theme of his inauguration speech, President Barack Obama, during his first interview with an Arab news channel, told the Muslim world that he holds a world view based on the following principle:
“…You will be judged on what you've built, not what you've destroyed….”
After viewing the Al-Arabiya interview several times, some key quotes (fittingly) in bold:
On sending (former Senator) George Mitchell as Middle East Special Envoy: “Sending George Mitchell to the Middle East is fulfilling my campaign promise that we're not going to wait until the end of my administration to deal with Palestinian and Israeli peace, we're going to start now. It may take a long time to do, but we're going to do it now…”
“…And so what I told him is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating…”
Well, isn’t that a nice departure from the foreign policy disasters and garbled rhetoric of George W. Bush? Although there was little substantive ‘policy’ discussed in the Al-Arabiya interview, the ‘tone’ and message marked a stark departure from our previous president.
On communications with the Muslim world: “…Now, my job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries…”
“…to the broader Muslim world what we are going to be offering is a hand of friendship…”
Wow. During the presidential campaign, when certain nasty (and xenophobic) right-wing elements tried to paint President Obama as some kind of crypto-Muslim Manchurian Candidate, we Americans did not see candidate Obama go even once within 12 feet of an American mosque entrance or Muslim campaign event.
During the election, the ‘Muslim’ insinuation became so radioactive that two American Muslim women in Michigan were removed from an Obama event in Detroit by campaign volunteers last June simply because the two women wore hijab (headscarf).
Now that he has won the election, President Obama is now humbly flexing his Muslim world ‘street cred’ by highlighting the fact that his multi-ethnic (and multi-religious) family includes Christians and Muslims and that he has lived in the world’s largest Muslim country, Indonesia.
On Al-Qaeda’s ideology: “…Their ideas are bankrupt. There's no actions that they've taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them…”
“...In my inauguration speech, I spoke about: You will be judged on what you've built, not what you've destroyed. And what they've been doing is destroying things. And over time, I think the Muslim world has recognized that that path is leading no place, except more death and destruction…”
As President Obama said in the interview, as Muslims worldwide continue to condemn and neutralize the hateful ideology of Al-Qaeda, this sort of nuanced clarity from President Obama shows that his rhetoric with the Muslim world will not include previous bone-headed presidential terms like ‘Crusade’ or ‘Islamo-Facism’.
On Islam-West reconciliation: “…And my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives. My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect…”
“…But ultimately, people are going to judge me not by my words but by my actions and my administration's actions…”
Wow, again. Once more, the humble, conciliatory and nuanced words our President used during the interview offer an olive branch to over 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide.
And President Obama is absolutely correct when he says the world will judge his legacy on his actions, not his words.
On ‘War on Terror’ slogan: “…I think that you're making a very important point. And that is that the language we use matters. And what we need to understand is, is that there are extremist organizations - whether Muslim or any other faith in the past - that will use faith as a justification for violence. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith's name…”
A truth that is 'self-evident,' but not said nearly often enough.
And one thought about his promise to make a major speech in an Islamic Capital: “…We're going to follow through on our commitment for me to address the Muslim world from a Muslim capital…”
My prediction: Jakarta, Indonesia. (Amman, Jordan running a close second…)
Editor’s Note: Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of www.TheMuslimGuy.com and contributing editor for Islamica Magazine in Washington.
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